Stone: Special Edition (Single Disc) (1974)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Teaser Trailer-Umbrella Trailers
|Year Of Production||1974|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Sandy Harbutt|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Unknown||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Subtitles||None||Smoking||Yes, and not just cigarettes|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
"Yeah, I like the ol' Grave Diggers. I'd be glad to see them anytime."... Stone.
I must point out from the outset, this single disc edition of Stone is only available as part of Umbrella's Ozploitation Volume 2 (6 disc set). If you wish to purchase Stone individually, Umbrella has a two-disc special edition, which is loaded with terrific extras. Click here to read my review.
At the beginning of the 1970's the Australian film industry was virtually non-existent. The small amount of film being produced was basically the product of foreign studios. Although titles like, Age Of Consent, Walkabout and Wake in Fright are all excellent films, they were all produced in Australia by Hollywood studios, under the helm of foreign directors.
It wasn't until the emergence of films such as Stork, Alvin Purple and The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, that the local industry developed a real identity. Audiences began to see films that openly embraced our culture - the good and the bad. Most of the films that were made during the early seventies were comedies, which exploited the Australian "ocker" image. But in 1974 a film arrived that was a stark departure from the genre. It was exciting, violent, confronting, and even occasionally funny, albeit in a very dark manner. It would become a hugely successful film financially and one that maintains an extraordinary cult following to this day - the film is Stone.
Stone was co-written, produced, directed and also stars Sandy Harbutt. If that's not enough, he also did the production design for the film. I was fortunate to speak with Sandy recently about his career and the film.
While studying law in the early sixties, Sandy became fascinated with European cinema and he decided that working in film was his vocation. While at law school, he made a contact in the advertising business and soon dropped out of law to pursue a career in television advertising. This was the important first step in achieving his ambition to become a filmmaker.
He realised that to become a good director, he first needed to understand actors. He joined Hayes Gordon's school at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney and trained as an actor. He was soon scoring decent roles in plays, while making TV commercials for high profile corporate clients. After scoring a major role in a play at the Ensemble he left advertising and assisted the theatre with their publicity.
Soon his notoriety on the Sydney stage gave him the opportunity to do some television work for Crawford Productions in Melbourne. Over the next few years, Sandy had guest roles in programs such as Homicide, Division 4, Matlock Police, The Evil Touch and even an episode of Skippy. (This Skippy episode titled Rockslide, features an interesting prequel to Sandy's character of Undertaker in Stone). Also during this time, Sandy made some freelance commercials before making a 1972 documentary for Channel Nine about the opening of Jesus Christ Superstar in Australia.
The initial idea for Stone came in 1970, while Sandy was working on a local police drama called, The Long Arm. He decided to write a script for the program based on a bikie gang. Together with his friend, Michael Robinson, they wrote a forty-eight minute episode. But before the episode had a chance to go into production, The Long Arm was axed. Michael Pate, the Executive Producer of the program, was keen to continue with the project as a feature film. However, Pate's vision for an American director and actors didn't impress Sandy, who was keen for the production to be completely Australian. In late 1970, Sandy Harbutt and Michael Robinson had re-worked the idea of their television script into a screenplay and Stone was born.
Sandy Harbutt spent about two years trying to get Stone into production through private investment, but interest was poor due to the lack of successful local product around at the time. He applied to the then, AFDC (Australian Film Development Corporation), who agreed to put up two thirds of the budget. Ross Wood Productions, approached Sandy about the project and agreed to put up the shooting and editing facilities as the remaining third of the budget. Sandy Harbutt, the AFDC and Ross Wood Productions made the contract for Stone and the production finally had a green light.
One of the great strengths of Stone lies in the casting. Everyone from the principal cast to the smaller roles have great presence on screen. Sandy had originally wanted his then wife, Helen Morse, to play the role of Vanessa, but superstition prevented this on-screen partnership. Helen went on to play the role of Stone's girlfriend, Amanda and the role of Vanessa went to the nineteen-year-old Rebecca Gilling in her first feature.
The budget was set at a very modest $157,000, but with approval, Sandy increased that amount by a further $35,000. The schedule went from a five week shoot to a six week shoot and was completed about three days before the film premiered at Sydney's Forum Cinema on 28th June 1974. Because there was only one projector available at Ross Wood Productions, Sandy had not seen Stone in continuous projection until the opening night.
The film was an immediate hit with audiences, but Sandy thought the film was too long. He wanted to remove any non-essential footage to improve the flow of the film. But because Stone was so successful, the distributors (Greater Union's BEF) would not let him touch the film until their five year deal had expired. The five year wait resulted in a director's cut that is substantially shorter than the original version. The original 124 minutes was trimmed down to that of the current version, which has a cinema running time of 98 minutes. "I just look at the picture as it is and as it was and as far as I'm concerned, the picture should be as it is. That's what I want the world to see", he said.
When I asked Sandy if there was any chance of a future DVD edition with the deleted scenes included, he indicated that he no longer had access to the footage. For the last thirty years he had stored the negative privately because up until a couple of years ago, the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) had no interest in storing it. They have since taken the negative material for storage in the archive, but now Sandy has no access to it. Although he has been told by them that a complete restoration of Stone is a priority, no such project has yet been undertaken.
Stone opens with a political assassination. Members of the bikie gang, the Grave Diggers, have assembled in Sydney's Domain to heckle an environmental speaker. One of the gang members, Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne) wanders off in a drug induced daze and unintentionally witnesses the assassination of the speaker. In the confusion that follows, the gang quickly vacates the park, unaware that the assassin now has them all in his sights.
In a short space of time, gang members are murdered by a variety of gruesome methods. In an effort to investigate these murders from the inside, the police send in one of their own. At first, Stone (Ken Shorter) is rejected outright by the gang, but when he saves the lives of a couple of members, they decide to initiate him and give him a go. At their isolated fortress, Dr Death (Vincent Gil) performs the initiation ceremony and Stone receives his Gravedigger jacket and earring.
Undertaker (Sandy Harbutt) is the leader of the Grave Diggers. He and other members are very wary of Stone's undercover mission, but in time Stone integrates well and seemingly becomes part of the gang - much to the disgust of his girlfriend, Amanda (Helen Morse).
The line between cop and gang member becomes blurred. Stone's dedication is tested when the Grave Diggers finally confront the killer and he must choose his loyalty.
Despite the restrictions of its R rating, the profitability of Stone was quite incredible for the time. Within six months, the film was in profit and by the time the five year distribution deal was over, it had grossed over two million dollars. Such an impressive financial return was a rare treat for an Australian film back then and is a seemingly impossible achievement these days.
In an incredible twist of fate, Sandy Harbutt's reward for making such a popular and profitable film was to not to be offered a single days work in the industry since making Stone. The film establishments of this country have had issues with Stone from very early on, or as Sandy put it, "They hated Stone". (This is well documented in Stone Forever, which is included in this DVD presentation). His desire to remain and work in Australia, has meant that he has met with constant rejection of funding applications for the many projects that he has tried to produce in the years since.
As he discussed his latest project with me, I sensed an element of confidence and resolve. I couldn't help but admire his drive to continue after so many disappointments. If determination, optimism and sheer enthusiasm amount for anything, you'd have to say we still haven't seen the last from Sandy Harbutt.
Stone is presented in the correct aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which is 16x9 enhanced.
Overall, the transfer does great justice to the film, exhibiting a decent degree of sharpness throughout. Occasionally film grain is evident, but this is consistent with the source material. Some of the riding sequences in Stone were shot using a 16mm camera mounted on a helmet, so naturally this footage displays differently to that shot on 35mm stock. Apart from the occasional glimpse of grain, blacks were very clean and shadow detail was mostly excellent.
Generally, colours appeared strong and very natural. This is easily the best Stone has looked since its initial cinema run. I'm sure that Graham Lind's superb cinematography has rarely looked better, (sunrise on the beach, a case in point). Throughout the film I was really impressed with how clean the colours looked on the screen. Alas, a few minor, but still annoying distractions popped up to rain on my parade. On about six occasions throughout the film the level of brightness adjusts itself in a rather abrupt manner. This is certainly not intentional and appears to be some sort of digital error, possibly a balance problem during the transfer process. The most obvious example of this occurs at 39:03, with the scene displaying a green hue. After a couple of seconds, it then corrects itself back to a more natural grading. Thankfully, the other examples are less obvious, because they don't exhibit distorted colour. Either way, it's only a slight blemish on an otherwise very impressive transfer.
Apart from the aforementioned issue, the transfer is free from any significant film-to-video artefacts. The print is also remarkably clean, which keeps any glimpse of film artefacts to an absolute minimum. Reel change markings are evident throughout the film at approximate twelve minute intervals, beginning at 10:34 and 10:40. These were not overly distracting.
There are no subtitles available on the DVD.
This is a DVD 9 dual layer disc. The layer change occurs at 64:40 and although it was noticed, it wasn't disruptive.
There is one audio track available on the DVD, English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s).
I had no problems hearing and comprehending any of the dialogue.
Audio sync appeared to be highly accurate throughout the film.
The original music for Stone was written by Billy Green, who also plays the role of 69 in the film. Billy was one of the top session musicians at the time. His music for the film is without doubt, one of the best Australian film soundtracks of the 70's. It perfectly underpins the action on screen, without ever becoming overbearing. There is an element of mystic combined with a sense of foreboding in much of the score. For me though, the highlight of Billy's music is the funeral scene. With Doug Parkinson contributing his strong vocals to the song, Cosmic Flash, it makes for an unforgettable scene.
Keeping with the original audio track, the focus is front and centre, but the use of ProLogicII channelled music to the rear speakers. The real surprise though was the subwoofer, which delivered excellent kick to the bass elements in Billy Green's music.
|Surround Channel Use|
The restored and original Stone trailer.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Despite a couple of minor hiccups, the video transfer delivers an excellent result. This is the best that Stone has looked since its initial cinema run.
The audio transfer is faithful to the original source.
The extras on this DVD are bare bones to say the least.
|DVD||JVC XV-N412, using Component output|
|Display||Hitachi 106cm Plasma Display 42PD5000MA (1024x1024). Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Amplification||Panasonic SA-HE70 80W Dolby Digital and DTS|
|Speakers||Fronts: Jensen SPX7 Rears: Jensen SPX4 Centre: Jensen SPX13 Subwoofer: Jensen SPX17|